Pesto is a popular condiment made with fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil and some kind of vegan cheese. It’s usually sold ready-made in supermarkets. But here is the bugbear: most brands contain Parmesan cheese, which (by law) contains calf rennet. If you look closely on the jars, you’ll see that they don’t even say ‘suitable for vegetarians’, because they aren’t. You’ll find some good vegan brands listed below. Gnocchi with Rocket & Vegan Pesto (So Vegan) is super-simple to make). Serve with vegan Parmesan.
Many foods used to make pesto (macadamia nuts, onion, garlic etc) are toxic to animals, so keep away from nosey paws. If making your own pasta, keep fresh dough away from pets, it can expand in the stomach.
Made with pine nuts, garlic and fresh basil, pesto also packs in some protein and vitamins. So either make your own, or choose a better brand of plant-based pesto by small artisan brands.
Vegan Ramp Pesto (Crowded Kitchen) is good for pasta, on toast, as a chip dip or serve with tofu (or use instead of chimichurri). Also good with crackers, it has a cheesy flavour thanks to nutritional yeast, and there’s some spinach in there too. ‘Ramps’ are wild leeks, which you can sub out if you can’t find ramps in season.
Vegan Pesto Pasta Salad (Crowded Kitchen) is an adaptable recipe if you can’t find fresh basil or pine nuts. Sub with easier-to-find ingredients spinach, other nuts and seeds or even carrot tops, to reduce food waste. Serve with pasta and white beans for a healthy Italian supper.
Speedy Flatbread Pesto Pizzas (So Vegan) are topped with cashew cheese and olives. You can wrap leftover dough in baking paper and freeze for up to 2 months (keep fresh dough away from pets).
Where to Buy Plant-Based Pesto
We try to always find zero waste packaging. For some that miss the mark at present, recycle plastic with household waste, or most supermarket bag bins now take everything, bar clingfilm.
Sacla Free From Basil Pesto is sold everywhere, including major supermarkets. This is really nice, an authentic swap and packed with goodness too.
Bonsan Organic Vegan Red Pesto is made with plant-based ingredients. This vibrant pesto is a rich and sweet blend of sundried tomatoes and cashew nuts. Use this pesto to stir into pasta, or drizzle it over grilled vegetables or spread in sandwiches. Also as Green Pesto with basil, pine kernels and extra virgin olive oil.
Mr Organic offers a nice range of plant-based pestos (some contain tofu for a protein punch):
If shopping in supermarkets, ASDA sells a good vegan tomato & pesto flatbread pizza. Under £2 and tasty for the price, free from palm oil.
This homemade carrot top pesto (Minimalist Baker) is a wonderful way to use up lonely carrot tops, which are snipped off, when making your own carrot soup et al. Most people like the taste of pesto (a blend of basil, pine nuts, olive oil and lemon juice) and this dish tastes the same, but has a more earthy flavour, thanks to the carrot tops (remove the tough stems). Plenty of garlic gives the dish that Italian ‘kick’, with a little sea salt to bring the flavours out.
Pesto is very popular in supermarkets. But did you know that most brands contain Parmesan, which by law contains calf rennet? So many vegetarians eat it (and restaurants serve it), mistakenly thinking that it’s veggie-friendly. If you eat ready-made, look in the Free From aisle (Sacla do a good vegan version).
This pesto stores well for a few days in the fridge, in an airtight container. It will start to fade in colour, but will taste just as good!
Pesto is not just for serving with pasta, although that’s the main way to eat it. You can also use it for dipping veggies, spread it on a pizza (instead of tomato sauce), swirl it through mashed potato, or add to soups and stews. It’s also good as an alternative salad dressing. Mangia!